Thursday, June 18, 2015

Nibepo Aike

Nibepo Aike is an Estancia about 60 KM outside of El Califate, Argentina.  Dude ranches are a big thing in Patagonia.  It turned out to also be a great place for walking.  We stayed some time in the Califate area, in order to see the glaciers, and chose not to spend time in El Chalten, on the northern end of the park, where there is more trekking.  So we had to look around a bit for places to walk.  Nibepo Aike is on land right next to the the Glacier National Park and it considered a park concession, so it has to follow by all the national park rules.  It was a privately owned estancia that had sheep and cows, but is now based on tourism, as it is limited in the number of sheep it can have by national park rules so it has only a demonstration herd.  It's snuggled right next to the southern arm of Lake Argentina (the largest lake in Argentina), which is fed by rain water/snow and Perito Moreno Glacier.  Since it's pretty close to the mountains, it gets some rain fall and can support scrubby bush, particularly califate bushes and some mixed Nothofagus woods.  Even 20 K further from the mountains, the rainfall (snowfall) decreases precipitously and there is only scrubby arid steppe.  It was a great, if expensive, stay, complete with great food including fresh milk from their Jersey cows with blobs of fat floating on it.

The first day, we got a tour of the working farm, including a sheep-shearing demonstration using old-timey scissors.   We went for a walk down farm roads, along the lake and through some paths (somewhat hard to find, as usual for us).  We walked towards the mountains.    We threw lots of rocks in the river and build small rock docks for walking out on to throw in more rocks and sticks. The scenery was amazing. 

On the way back to the ranch house, we found a lot of califate bushes. We love to eat wild berries on our hikes in the Pacific Northwest, and Mike and I had tried the Pan de Indio (and edible tree-growing fungus), once we knew what it was, in Tierra del Fuego, but that wasn't such a tasty treat.  El Califate is named for the califate bush, a scrubby, thorny, hardy thing that grows all over the arid Patagonian steppe that produces tasty small purple berries with lots of seeds.   We were there in mid-summer when it was ripe. We quickly learned to identify califate and decided we liked it.    Maeve particularly liked it, but didn't like to swallow the seeds and did a lot of spitting, and ended up like this:

We spent a fair amount of time on our walks hanging out at califate plants. Califate is an interesting name.  The story we heard about how this plant got its Spanish name was that when Magellan got to Patagonia, looking for the southern passage, his ships were in bad shape.  They needed wood and tree resin to make pitch to repair them.  He looked around for pine trees and other northern hemisphere stuff, but the only woody, sappy plant he found was a little thorny bush, which he named califate, from the Spanish word for pitch or caulk. 

Another day, we walked uphill from the Estancia, whose buildings you can see in the background in this photo.  We walked through lots of pasturage until we got above the grass growth line and hung out on top of the hill to eat lunch.  Another group had said that if you walked further over the ridge line, you could see into the glaciers better, but we didn't get that far.  This day, the game was picking stalks of grass and making slip knots to shoot the grass off at one another.  I found grass seeds in clothing for the next week.

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